Recently we sent a request to advertise our Silkworms in a local agricultural newsletter. We received a curt rejection stating:
‘Silkworms are just pets for children…What do Silk-worms produce anyway?”
Actually, Silkworms produce a lot more than just their famous high value fabric which is strong, beautiful, soft and insulating. Silk-worm pupae are also edible and the worms produce neat pellets of fertiliser. Agriculturally speaking Silkworms definitely are ‘childs-play’. They and their hardy food source, carbon-building Mulberry trees, are very easy to grow and harvest. Silkworms are probably the most domesticated protein source on the planet. The worms grow to 70 times their body size in just a few months. They are easy to handle using simple tools and require no fancy farming machinery.
Silk was one of the first agricultural products known to man. The silk route facilitated trade from far eastern countries to the middle east and Europe as early as the dark ages. Whilst silk was quietly being made by farmers for Royal families in Asia, European hunters were chasing the brutal undomesticated forefathers of sheep, cows and horses. Silk is still considered one of the best fabrics for high fashion products such as suits. In Asia, the trade secrets are heavily guarded and recent technological innovations have made it much easier to process the silk.
Why has Silk been forsaken?
Fossil fuels now produce silk-substitutes such as nylon and synthetic polyester.
Fossil fuels have also changed the way we farm. Fossil fuels enable farmers to cheaply transport, shear and process high fibre yields from larger animals such as sheep.
Many small products like silk, tea, cacao/chocolate and coffee beans are labour-intensive and hard to mechanise.
What’s So Great About Traditional Knowledge?
Gene’s can be altered but not created. Why let any genetic material be lost forever? Many people have fought to retain valuable genetic material in the hope that this genetic material will be valuable for future generations. Furthermore, it is easier and cheaper to keep producing living seeds than to store them in a seed-bank. Bio-security controls also make it risky to move species from one bio-region to another. If you have a genetic strain in your bio-region , this strain has probably adapted to your area and could be hard to replace even if you were able to import it from another region.
In the same way we are losing gene material, we are also at risk of losing traditional knowledge. Many ancient crafts, techniques and recipes are distant memories.
One of the most powerful principles of Permaculture is to build diversity. By encouraging diversity we broaden our options and we foster resilience in our own designs and in our community. Silk farming is one little example of thousands of years of research and living in harmony with nature.
A ‘Super-tree’ produces flammable nuts, has leaves that can burn wet, produces abundant fruit, supports a web of life, grows large enough to live in, provides timber that never rots, survives thousands of years, supports a wild-life of fungi underground, and holds steep slopes on mighty mountains. Many can regulate the temperature around them by moving liquids up and down the trunk, dropping leaves and expiring vapours to cool the air. Remarkably, some trees can communicate through their root systems for miles underground. Mature trees can even send warnings and protective chemicals out to younger trees.
10 Special Powers
Trees provide Fuel, Food, Oils, Forage, Structural, Conservation, Carbon sequestration, Soil managers, animal barriers, and Fungal & Microbial habitats.
Fuel trees provide a range of fuel options including solid fuel, flammable leaves, bark, oil or flammable ‘candle or diesel’ nuts.
You don’t always have chop a tree to get fuel. Solid fuel from trees sometimes falls naturally. The windfalls include flammable leaves, cones, nuts, fallen branches, harvested sap, and resin.
David Holmgren writes that solid fuels are the most useful energy resource globally. We can plan for their harvest, they are easy to cut, require little training to use, convert easily to energy, are hard to steal or vandalise, and renew themselves.
Eucalyptus leaves have the power to burn whilst wet. Even more amazing, diesel and petroleum trees have nuts that burn like candles. Meet the Brazilian tropical rainforest tree Copaifera langsdorffii commonly known as Capaiba (Tupi Indian word cupa-yba). It is several powers. This ‘diesel tree’ is also a soil-enhancing legume. The resin is tapped sustainably like maple trees. Another, Pittosporum resiniferum, provides a form of n-Heptane.
Overall, most trees produce woody material suitable for the generation of BioGas fuel. This means alternative wood-based fuel is available without killing trees. Simply coppice or pollard instead.
More than 80% of the world’s food species came from the rainforest. Fruits, nuts, tea, coffee, chocolate and alcohols such as cider come from the bounty of trees.
The permaculture food forest usually intercrops fruit and layers of nut trees. We use strong food trees to support vine crops and short-lived trees act as nurse trees to maturing species. Tall evergreen trees are positioned in the shaded corner of the orchard and often used as wind-breaks.
Herbal, medicinal, culinary and cosmetic oils come from trees. These include Eucalyptus, Pine, Olive, Avocado, Walnut, Pecan, Almond, Cashew, Macadamia, Frankincense and Myrrh and Neem. Teatree is a hard-working fungicide (ok, it’s a shrub but worthy of mention.) Coconuts are not really trees either but they are tall, fragrant, yummy and an excellent make-up remover.
Other tree oils such as Tungoil (Vernicia fordii) when mixed with the natural cleaner and thinner Limonene (oil of citrus fruit peels) is a beautiful floor polish and useful for coating and preserving woodwork.
Fodder is an excellent food for grazing animals. The art of fodder planting almost forgotten conventional farming. Many trees provide excellent, nutritious fodder for animals. Fodder from trees is available during dry years. Fodder trees can be grown as living fences,(applied at Avonstour) hedges or as shade trees in the corners of paddocks. The tree roots can extend deep into subsoil, mining minerals that grasses may not reach.
Cattle browse and shelter beside fodder trees. Their manure is happily filtered by the abundant layers of forest shrubbery and leaf litter beneath. Forage Examples include: Oak, Poplar, Acacia aneura (Mulga), Albizia Julibrissa (Leguminous, deciduous, fast growing, regenerates) Dodnaea viscosa (Hop bush).
Above all, fodder trees provide food, shade, windbreak, pollution filter and living fences. Forage Examples include Oak, Poplar, Acacia aneura (Mulga), Albizia Julibrissa (Leguminous, deciduous, fast growing, regenerates) and Dodnaea viscosa (Hop bush). Better still, plant a guild of native trees to support wildlife and local fungi.
5. Structural Trees and Timber
Many trees grew large enough to shelter a traveller. Plato wrote about trees in his homeland, Greece, that were too big to put his arms around. Few large trees remain there. Shipbuilding claimed most of the great trees of Plato’s era. But still today, trees war and poverty continue to destroy trees.
Throughout the eras, material from trees has provided us with complete houses (roof shingles, frames, and plastered wattle walls), canoes, ships, furniture, garden tools, the first cars, musical instruments, cricket bats, rainboots, clothing (silk, rayon, viscose) and much more.
6. Wildlife Habitat – Humanities Bank of Genetic Capital
The conservation of wildlife habitats makes good economic sense as well as ethical sense. Healthy forests as a bank of diverse genetic material. Most of the plants, insects have not yet named. Their potential lies undiscovered. Surviving forests require nothing from mankind except respect. They are a self-supporting bank of unknown resources.
Humanity may be able to create clean air, water, soil, and mine more nutrients. But we can’t recreate genetic material. If we did discover how to recreate genetic material, a lot of creativity, science and energy would need to be invested. It is cheaper to safe-guard the genetic material existing today.
7. Carbon Sequestration
Trees are the cheap. They work day and night aslong-term storage units soaking up excess carbon. They help mitigate or defer global warming and slow climate change. But recent research is showing that some trees are hitting their limit of absorption. This startling situation demonstrates we need more trees to combat the growing climate crisis.
Long-living trees are excellent guardians of carbon. Many trees live thousands of years (including olives) however, clonal colonies of trees have the potential to be immortal.
The oldest known clonal tree is Pando, an 80,000-year-old colony of Quaking Aspen. Unfortunately, the tree releases sequestered carbon when it dies. So, we need long-living self-replicating plants.
8. Soil Management
Trees hold the banks of steep slopes, trap centuries of silt, create their own rain and micro-climate. Trees have been shown to seed the clouds to help make rain. The process of soil enrichment can be accelerated with Huglekultur, Synergistic gardening, and Biochar.
Garden Mounds with Wood
Austrian, Sepp Holzer, pioneered Huglekultur for raised beds. The wood in the base of Huglekultur mounds holds moisture, builds fertility, adds height. This provides more surface area for intensive gardens growing vegetables and herbs. Similarly, Synergistic garden mounds, developed first by Emilia Hazslip, can also incorporate wood. Position mounds to harvest rainwater, deflect frost, create various microclimates, and slowly move the water through the system.
Soil Enrichment with Wood By-products
Biochar, formerly known as Terra preta, is low temperature-carbonized biomass commonly made trees. For thousands of years, it has been the lifeblood of native south-American intensive agriculture. They convert lumbar into a habitat for the accelerated growth of soil micro-organisms. Activated charcoal also sequesters carbon.
Biochar can be made as a by-product of heating the home. We make biochar in our fuel stove using a loose lidded container inside the firebox or by covering the flames with ash before going to bed. Ash from the fire is separated from the charcoal. We turn the charcoal into biochar by crushing it in a bag when cool then adding it to the compost toilet mass.
Ash is an excellent source of insulation material. Or it can provide valuable nutrients and pH modification to garden beds and poultry house floors.
9. Animal Barrier Systems
Hedges can be stronger, longer-lasting, and more durable than fences.
Nature is free and choatic. But not all hedges have to look messy. In fact, when the edges are neat, most people think the garden looks today. In truth, nature can work happily within tidy boundaries.
Some hedges can be trimmed to sit up off the ground to allow small creatures to pass underneath but block out larger animals, people, and cars.
Hedging in England is an art form, with quirky regional variations. In Dartmoor, the trunks of young trees are half-cut and pushed horizontally. Similarly, each sapling gets half-cut and tipped onto the previous sapling. In time, the side branches start to grow upright. This method makes a thick and durable fence providing habitat for wildlife such as insect-hungry birds.
10. Fungi and Microbes
Incubation converts tree sugars into energy.Paul Stamets shows how mushrooms can save the world by providing a usable energy source for domestic and commercial systems.
Trees produce a lot of goods and services worldwide. Observation is the key to Permaculture. Through observation we build our knowledge and community understanding of plants and their beauty. Here is April’s celebration about what there is to love about Trees.